WHITE, Ga.—Plant managers usually have three main priorities: people, quality and production. For James Hawk, people are No. 1.
Hawk, Rubber & Plastics News' 2013 Executive of the Year, said everything starts with people, and if that isn't the No. 1 priority, there is a problem. The president of Toyo Tire North America Manufacturing Inc. and chairman of Toyo Tire Holdings of Americas Inc.'s main focus is the safety of both his employees and his customers.
“His style was unusual for me because he doesn't focus on production first,” said Steve Wesner, senior director of quality at Toyo Tire North America Manufacturing. “He focuses on the safety and the quality first. He truly believes that if you center your actions around providing a good safe environment and intend to produce a high quality product, the productivity will come.”
Hawk knows how important his job is because he has seen how management can directly affect the lives of the employees under its care. His father worked for Firestone for 39 years and nine months. Hawk knew the exact month because his father was given a choice: early retirement or get laid off. It was a lesson that hit home.
His other reminder sits on top of his bookshelf: a brick from Continental Tire's Akron facility.
Hawk had to oversee the demolition of the plant. The facility had become a liability for the company. Its wood floors were a potential fire hazard, and the cost to maintain the building was too much after it had expanded in other areas. So the firm closed the plant and eliminated all of the jobs. The employees were offered jobs to transfer to other union facilities. Some did, but Hawk estimates that 90 percent were just laid off.
“I'm very careful when I hire new employees,” Hawk said. “I don't have this mentality that we're just going to staff up and staff down. When I hire somebody, I want them to be able to retire from this business. I want to make sure, to the best of my ability, that it's a permanent job.”